With his Superman socks on and Atlassian baseball cap covering his shoulder length hair, pin-up boy of unicorn tech startups Mike Cannon-Brookes, was kept waiting in the front row of SydStart for almost an hour on Tuesday before he discussed the importance of operating in or near a tech hub which in Australia he said is, and should be Sydney.
The event is a crazy day jam packed with discussion on Australia’s tech startup scene and how to be the unicorn company that succeeds and not one of the 90% or so that fail.
Finally taking the stage, Cannon-Brookes said Australia shouldn’t be wasting energy spawning more regional centres as a way to develop tech talent.
“You need critical mass for a lot of these things to work,” Cannon-Brookes said.
“I’m not even sure in Sydney we have critical mass yet for certain things.
“The more we start spreading out, the more difficult and dangerous it becomes that we just diffuse ourselves and then all we’ve got just withers away into nothing.”
Pointing to the critical masses established in Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas where the regions have significant populations to fuel business development, attempting to foster the same types of communities across a number of centres across Australia, he said: “I don’t think we can support that.”
There has been a lot of talk recently about developing regional tech hubs to support the growth of startups and broaden the talent pool. On the back of this co-working spaces have been popping up across Australia with communities being developed in the outskirts of Perth, Brisbane, Wollongong, Newcastle and Sydney.
“I don’t think we have the population size and density of companies,” he said, adding the one thing the tech sector needs is “a number of free atoms, radicals bouncing off each other on a constant basis. That requires somewhat of a co-location.”
Just like the startups it represents, Sydstart is chaotic. There’s a lot of people running around searching for networking and investment opportunities.
The agenda for the day was only formalised on Monday night and it was continually iterated throughout the day.